New Mexico’s Hate Crime Legislation

I applaud Senator Bill O’Neill’s plan to include the homeless as a class of victims described under New Mexico’s law against hate crimes.

I worry that hate crime legislation may tend to diminish the awfulness of violent crime, in general, and send a message that violent crimes committed against members of these special classes are somehow more heinous than the same exact crimes committed against non-members; but that might be topic for a different discussion.

My greater concern over O’Neill’s proposal is that it doesn’t go far enough to address the real issue. We desperately need to look at hate crime, and prejudice, that are motivated by economic class disparity. As our economy becomes more and more stabilized to a global standard, we are becoming much more focused on the differences between those who have and those who do not; yet most Americans have little experience or understanding about life in an economically stratified society.

Most of our old beliefs about economic hardship, and about people moving from one economic status to another, are quickly becoming unrealistic; but our society simply hasn’t been around long enough, or experienced enough dramatic economic shifts, for us to have the understanding that hatefulness toward a person because of that person’s economic status is unacceptable. Period.

Interestingly, when we look at hatred based on economic status, we’re looking at a phenomenon that cuts across all of society. Is there really any difference between the murder of a poor homeless person, because he’s poor and homeless, and the murder of a wealthy person because he’s wealthy? I would argue there is just as much hatred in our society toward the very very wealthy as there is toward the very very poor – and that crime motivated by that hatred is just as heinous, regardless of the victim’s economic status.

Going about this business of dealing with hate crime by focusing on the class of victim might, in fact, be entirely the wrong way to approach it. Hatred and hateful behavior are not that hard to identify or distinguish from other things that motivate criminal acts. In fact, if we really get honest and look closely at hatred, how it develops and the systems of indoctrination in which it’s fostered, then we might begin to understand some of the causes for our society’s biggest problems.